Research on the Efficacy and Impacts of School Suspension Presented by Jane R. Wettach Director, Duke Children’s Law Clinic NCSBA School Law Academy March 26, 2009
True or False? • School violence has significantly increased over the last 20 years. • False. School violence and disruption have remained steady since 1985. • The number of students who report having been in a physical fight on school property during the last 12 months remained at about 20 percent from 1993 – 2003. • Higher rates of violence are seen at urban schools that serve a high percentage of children in lower socio-economic groups.
True or False? • The use of suspension to remove children from the school environment in response to misbehavior has significantly increased over the last twenty years. • True. “Zero tolerance” policies, which date from the late 1980’s, have resulted in many more school suspensions. From 2000 to 2008, long-term suspensions in NC have increased by 42% (from 2,216 to 5,225), while the student population has increased by 15% percent.
True or False? • Long-term suspensions are reserved for offenses involving serious violence, possession of weapons, and drug dealing. • False. Most long-term suspensions are for aggressive behavior without weapons or injury, disrespect & miscellaneous rule violations. Less than 15% are for selling drugs, injurious assaults, possession of a weapon, or criminal activity, combined.
True or False? • Because zero tolerance-type policies limit school administrator discretion, there is less chance for discipline to be imposed in a discriminatory manner. • False. African-American males continue to be dramatically over-represented in suspension and expulsion figures; studies show they are disciplined more harshly for less serious reasons than any other group of students.
True or False? • Consistent removal of students who violate school rules creates a climate more conducive to learning for those students who remain. • False. • Higher rates of suspension correlate with lower ratings on school climate surveys. • Higher rates of suspension correlate with lower academic achievement.
True or False? • Swift and certain punishments have a deterrent effect on students, thus improving student behavior. • False. Studies show that even after multiple years of “zero tolerance” policies in place, the schools with such policies are less safe than schools with them. No data supports the proposition that zero tolerance policies have made schools safer.
True or False? • Parents overwhelmingly support zero tolerance policies to ensure school safety; students feel more secure knowing a “zero tolerance” approach is in place. • Data are mixed. Some surveys report parental support; students generally regard suspension as unfair and ineffective.
True or False? • Suspension is an effective tool to modify future behavior of the suspended student. • False. • Suspension increases, rather than decreases, the likelihood of future misbehavior for the suspended student. Students typically feel anger, not remorse, after a suspension. Studies show an increase in delinquent behavior during and after periods of out-of-school suspension.
True or False? • Students have sufficient judgment to understand the long-term consequences of breaking school rules. • False. Particularly under the age of 15, many students remain too psycho-socially immature to correctly assess risk, control impulses, and exercise appropriate judgment about long-term consequences.
True or False? • Students who are long-term suspended are more likely to eventually drop out of school. • True. One study showed that only half of the students who were long-term suspended ever obtained high school diplomas. Another showed that suspended students were three times as likely to drop out than non-suspended students.
True or False? • Suspended students are able to return to school after the suspension and continue successfully with their studies. • False. A high percentage of suspended students must repeat a grade. Their academic progress is negatively affected, interrupting or defeating efforts to go on to higher education. Important social relationships are broken and feelings of alienation upon return to school are common.
True or False? • Suspension saves times and money, because school personnel can concentrate on the students who are willing to abide by the rules. • False. When a single student becomes involved with drugs and crime instead of finishing school, the cost to taxpayers has been estimated at $1.7 million to $2.3 million. In contrast, returning an expelled student to mainstream education costs about $5000, the same amount required to educate any other student. Effective alternative education costs slightly more, about $7000, but one study found that it provides $20,650 per student per year in social benefits.
True or False? • Alternative approaches to school discipline have resulted in higher levels of school safety. • True. School-wide programs such as Positive Behavior Support and Safe and Responsive Schools, reduce suspensions and improve overall school climate.
True or False? • A commitment by school leaders to reduce suspensions can be successful. • True. Leadership sets the tone and expectations. When the Durham School Board communicated it wanted school personnel to decrease the use of suspension as a disciplinary matter, the numbers of suspensions dropped dramatically. At some of the middle schools, the suspensions dropped by well more than 100% (i.e., from 1,236 to 514 sts per year, in a school of about 1,000 students.)
True or False? • School administrators and board members across North Carolina respond to similar disciplinary incidents in decidedly different ways. • True. Informal and anecdotal information supports the conclusion that the same behavior can generate a long-term suspension in one school district and no suspension at all in another. On the following slides, see the penalties selected by a group of 100 school board members and school administrators.
An eight-year-old third-grader was discovered to have written “Bomb This School” on the wall of a bathroom stall at school. This followed an incident where his teacher had discovered him to have an I-pod and he was angry after he was forced to surrender it to her.
Two 16-year-old high school students, girlfriend and boyfriend, left campus, with permission, when a class was cancelled. They both had off-campus lunch passes; the cancelled class was just prior to lunch. They drove to one of their homes, where they engaged in consensual sex. School officials learned of their activities because a parent came home and found them there. They admitted what they had done. Neither had a discipline history and both were honors-level students.
On a bus full of middle schoolers, the driver asked one of the students to help get everyone to their assigned seats. A second student resisted the first’s instructions and the two students got into an argument. The first student slapped the second on multiple occasions (anywhere from three to twenty; the accounts of the students and witnesses varied considerably). The bus driver was unaware of the incident. The first student had no discipline history.
Resources • American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, “Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in Schools?” Vol. 63, No. 9 American Psychologist, Dec. 2008 • N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction, Annual Reports on Suspensions & Expulsions